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Father William J. Slattery Ph.D., S.T.L., was ordained in Rome by St. John Paul II in 1991. He earned his degrees in philosophy and theology at the prestigious Pontifical Gregorian University and the Lateran University in Rome.
In his newest book, Heroism and Genius published by Ignatius Press, Slattery shows his readers how priests, bishops and the laity worked with the fullness of divinely revealed truth in the Catholic Church to build Western Civilization. He discusses how saints built Western Civilization and how we need saints today, to rebuild what has been lost.
In a nutshell, what is Heroism and Genius about?
"Heroism and Genius" is the dramatic flesh-and-blood account of the real men who built the West's civilization during the dark centuries after the collapse of the Roman Empire.
It tells the inspiring story of how these towering giants of mankind, their minds imbued with the genius of Christianity, integrated the achievements of the Jewish people, Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Germanics, creating a new society that embodied the Catholic vision of God and man, time and eternity.
Although it highlights the role of priests, there are countless interesting insights into the formidable laymen and women who also shaped the new social order.
What are a few of the original institutions of Western Civilization that were created by Catholics?
The original "institutions" of the West that Heroism and Genius talk about are the patterns of thinking, acting and living that are original because they originate in Catholicism.
For instance, the ideals of chivalry, the romanticism of Christendom, the roots of the scientific mentality, representative government, Gothic architecture, Gregorian chant, and Free Enterprise Economics and universal education.
Chapter 6 is entitled "Guardians of the Ancient Rite." Why do you attribute such a key role to the traditional Latin Mass in the creation of the culture of Western Europe?
Historically, culture comes from cultus (cult or worship of God, in other words, religion). If there is no religion, then culture is formed by a pseudo-religion such as the materialism of contemporary Western society. And the liturgy that inspired the creative minorities of Western Civilization was the traditional Latin Mass.
It shows in the history of the origins of Chartres Cathedral and Gregorian chant; in the inspiration for chivalry; in the utterly new spirit of romanticism that exploded in the 12th century; in the new ideal of manhood, the startling insistence on the dignity of woman; and the countless beautiful ways during winter, spring, summer and autumn whereby the ordinary men and women lived, loved and acted according to the world vision radiating from the Mass.
For everyone — whether peasant or prince, intellectual or knight — was absolutely clear about what the Mass was: the Sacrifice! It was the mystical enactment of the sacrificial love of Christ crucified on Calvary for the salvation of individuals and societies! This sense of the Sacrifice inspired a new civilization — Christendom — that was built on the notion that all personal, marital, family, social rights and obligations should be built on the rock of the sacrificial love of the God-Man. That was the pattern!
Has Western Civilization met its demise? Are we truly in the "dark ages" now?
Since Western Civilization, through its ruling elites, [now] violently rejects any reference to Catholicism — the core of the West's ethos — in the public square, we are now in a new civilization, "post-Western civilization," more aptly named the "Dictatorship of Relativism" by Benedict XVI. Since this new civilization assaults even the basic institutions of marriage and family in a way that the barbarians of the first Dark Ages never did, we are truly entering into a new darkness, far darker than the first.
Have Catholics contributed to the fall of Western Civilization?
Catholic sins have done more damage than non-Catholic assaults in destroying the remnants of the Christian civilization. To us Catholics, the blueprints, keys and defense of the city of Christendom was entrusted. By the callousness, incompetence and corruption of so many of us, especially of bishops and priests, the city gates have been opened to the enemies of the Church and of mankind's true and eternal well-being.
What can we do to pick up the pieces and rebuild?
The first step is to know who we are! Strong in our Catholic identity, we will be proud in our Catholic identity! However, in order to know who we are, we must overcome the power of the "Dictatorship of Relativism" because as George Orwell wrote in 1984:
Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.
And that is where knowledge of the greatness of Catholic achievements during the first Dark Ages plays a vital role! As we built, so we can strive to rebuild! Man's nature doesn't change. The Catholic Faith doesn't change. Society's real needs don't change.
Do you foresee an even more beautiful resurrection of Western Civilization after this?
Just as Catholics laid the foundations of the astoundingly beautiful civilization of Christendom during the first Dark Ages, so we can strive to do so again in this new era of darkness.
God is in charge of history! However, in His omnipotence, He has willed that His providential action includes our creativity. By cooperating through grace — and sweat — we can be the new Catholic creative minorities who, by handing on the One True Faith intact to the future generations will thus have done everything possible for a new culture and social order of Catholic matrix.
The darkest hour can come just before the dawn.
The 10th century saw the Church almost brought to her knees by the corruption of the papacy. Barbarianism in behavior still abounded. And yet, in the 12th century, men awoke to see Gothic spires piercing the heavens of Europe; chivalry taming warriors; romanticism spreading a new appreciation for womanhood; Christian statesmanship embodied in selfless rulers like King Louis IX.
Why? Because the creative minorities of Catholics had never given up hope. They never ceased to build, foster, hand on the Tradition of the Faith. And so we can go about it again.
Each and every one of us Catholics has the glorious mission of laying the foundations for a new Christian civilization. Since "history is the essence of innumerable biographies" (Carlyle), every one of us has a role to play! Spend not a moment in thinking whether you have an important or not so important role. That you will learn when the "Book of Life" (Revelation 20:12) is opened.
No greater way to spend life, no more sublime way to envision daily existence, no greater legacy to hand on to future generations, no more fitting way to prepare for the eternal joys of Heaven!